Yeah, I sense it, too. Life is…not easy…right now. Everyone’s stressed, and not in the usual way.
When I’m not curled up in a ball clutching a glass of wine to my chest as if the earth was about to open up and tear it from my exhausted hands (*breathes*), I’ve been avoiding the real world by deep-diving into the fairy tale world.
But guess what?
THE FAIRY TALE WORLD IS TERRIFYING!
Why? It’s Disney and Happily Ever After and glass slippers and kisses? Well, not exactly. Not the original tales.
The original tales present a horrifying, bloody, violent, revengeful, lusty wasteland of golden rivers and glass pearls. It looks pretty, but you better arm yourself with some pretty heavy artillery before walking into that world.
We are so damn lucky not to live in a fairy tale.
Given this, I started doing one little thing that improved my life immensely. Every time a little ball of stress gathers in the pit of my stomach, I say to myself “At least it’s not a fairy tale.”
And magically, it helps!
Not convinced? Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why this works…
1. Fairy tales are extreme.
The innocent girl and the evil stepmother. The swineherd and the princess. Rich and poor, young and old, murder, poison, temptation, justice.
There’s no halfway in fairy tales.
You won’t find a middle-class girl meeting a middle-class boy and falling in love in Grimm’s or Hans Christian Anderson’s stories.
You will find an arrogant princess who meets a talking frog, grows frustrated with it, and throws it against the wall. SPLAT! It becomes a prince. (Yes, that’s the original ending to “The Frog Prince”).
The frog and the princess. The golden ball and the pool.
They’re such sharp images.
In “Hansel and Gretel” a famine sweeps the land, and the woodcutter’s wife decides that she and her husband can no longer survive with children at home because they eat too much. I didn’t remember that part, did you? I knew that Hansel and Gretel were abandoned by their parents, but I couldn’t remember why.
That’s an extreme reaction, right?
In fairy tales, dislike leads to murder, famine leads to abandonment of children, small slights lead to curses on an entire castle-worth of people. Sure, there are examples of this in our world, and worse, but these events happen in an awfully high percentage of fairy tales.
Life sucks here sometimes.
But at least we don’t have witches cursing us when we leave them out of dinner party invitations.
(Or do we…)
Did you know that in some versions of Rapunzel, the witch finds out about Rapunzel’s visits with the prince because he gets her pregnant? She’s so naive that she doesn’t even realize it. And in versions of Sleeping Beauty, the princess doesn’t wake until one of her children suckles the spindle from her thumb? That’s right. She gets pregnant and has two children in her sleep.
Dear prince, there’s a little something called consent. Get with it.
But even outside of the blatant sexual issues of fairy tales, there’s something else.
Evil stepmothers, evil witches. Naive girls.
Are we noticing a pattern?
Women feature in most of the popular fairy tales as paragons of innocence OR paragons of evil. Since fairy tales are so extreme (see above), they are usually one or the other.
I don’t know about you, but I would rather not be a paragon of innocence (boring), or one of evil (flat). And I’m not.
I get to be me.
So, even when I’m getting mansplained in a meeting or harassed on the street…
At least I’m not a fairy tale.
3. Sometimes, instead of the prince, you get dead.
This was a traumatizing one for me. So, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Belle, and Cinderella get their princes in the end….but do you know who doesn’t?
You may want to stop reading now, because this one *really* traumatized me. Forever.
Are you sure you want to keep going?
You can’t stop now.
It’s…The Little Mermaid!
Not only is her tongue cut out by an evil sea witch, but walking hurts so much that she feels as if she’s stepping on pointed blades. And even through all that pain and sacrifice the prince falls in love with someone else! The little mermaid is given a choice: kill the prince and rejoin her family as a mermaid or die herself.
And she chooses, well, here it is from Hans Christian Anderson:
“With eyes already glazing she looked once more at the Prince, hurled herself over the bulwarks into the sea, and felt her body dissolve in foam.”
Your cries are worthless. She’s dead.
Say it with me now. “At least my life isn’t a fairy tale.” At least you can choose your partner, and you don’t have to kill him or her (or yourself) if someone else enters the picture. You might want to, but you don’t have to.
4. Lies, lies, everywhere.
In fairy tales (like in House), everyone lies. They lie through their mouths and they lie with their actions.
They scheme to lose children in the woods.
They dress up as swineherds and lie to princesses, then leave the princesses to fend for themselves in the dangerous world.
They lie for position to push witches into ovens (sure, for Gretel, the witch was about to eat her brother but, hold on, I’m making a point).
They lie about going to a ball.
They lie about eating forbidden food, or about snitching.
Whenever fairy tale characters want something, they lie! Depending on if they are the hero or the villain, they either get what they want or are punished severely for their lies.
And I also noticed something peculiar about fairy tales. When someone dons a disguise, like, oh, I don’t know, the skin of a donkey, for example, the people around them are totally perplexed. LOOK, IT’S A DONKEY!
No, it’s a human woman wearing a donkey’s skin. Can you really not tell the difference?
So, there’s two sides to this one. 1) At least you don’t walk around thinking that everything that dresses like a donkey and talks like a girl is a donkey, and 2) Unless you surround yourself with psychopaths, at least your life isn’t full of awful lies.
Say it now! At least you don’t live in a fairy tale.
5. The punishments are killer, sometimes literally.
Did you know that Cinderella’s step-sisters have their eyes poked out by birds during Cinderella’s wedding to the prince? And this is after they literally cut off their heels and toes so they can fit into the notorious slipper. Don’t we think that’s punishment enough for cruel treatment of their sister? No?
Or what about Little Red Riding Hood? A wolf lies to her (surprise, surprise) and she gets distracted by some pretty flowers which she picks for her grandmother. And what does she get in return? Eaten!
Then there are some of the lesser known, but more horrific fairy tale punishments.
In Hans the Hedgehog, Hans (the hedgehog) drags a girl from her kingdom and rolls over her body with his quills because she won’t marry him (as her father promised…but HE’S A HEDGEHOG).
Or in The Red Shoes. The girl likes her shoes–so she is cursed to dance in them forever and ever until she cuts off her feet. Even then they dance after her, taunting and blocking her way to redemption.
Aren’t you glad you aren’t in a fairy tale? You might think twice about those Minolo Blahniks.
I started out this post in a very serious way — “Why we need fairy tales more than ever.”
They give us hope.
Sure, they give us hope…by showing us that no matter what, you can always find a fairy tale character that has it worse.